How many frozen mice does a zoo need to buy each year, in order to feed the residents of its reptile houses? How much fly spray is required to keep a herd of giraffes comfortable? How much money must be collected from generous donors to offset a fall in visitor admission revenues resulting from a global pandemic?
A good person to answer these questions is Kim Pridgen, Chief Financial Officer at Nashville Zoo, the US’s ninth largest establishment of its kind by landmass. After a career mostly spent in the healthcare sector, Pridgen joined the zoo two years ago – about the same time that she welcomed a new grandson, who will no doubt grow up believing his grandma has the coolest job in the world. For the record, his grandma agrees.
That said, it was clear to Pridgen early on in her new job that urgent changes needed to be made to the zoo’s finance systems. The first month-end close, she recalls, really opened her eyes to the problems and risks associated with running numerous legacy financial management systems:
It was so problematic. Seeing how accounts payable was handled at that very first month-end close, I was astonished that our systems were still working daily. I immediately said, ‘I need funds to tackle this,’ and I think I scared everybody by pulling the fire alarm and saying, ‘It is unacceptable to go on any further like this.’
But the executive team at Nashville Zoo listened, she says, and quickly rallied round, agreeing to an upgrade to Sage Intacct. That decision was reached after conversations with CFOs at other zoos across the US and having also considered Microsoft Dynamics GP, Oracle NetSuite and Blackbaud. Intacct’s accounts payable, cash management and general ledger modules were implemented by local company LBMC Technology Solutions and went live just weeks before lockdown came into effect in 2020. It was a fortuitous bit of timing, says Pridgen:
We would never have been able to work remotely if we were still on our old systems. For one thing, our AP process is paperless now, thanks to Intacct, and when we started working remotely, we were able to delve into each other’s work on the system just as if we were in the office, to find documentation associated with a journal entry, or a vendor invoice, or a cash deposit. That transparency and that ease of use made the transition to working from home so much easier on us all.
Coping with COVID and moving back into growth
Overall, Nashville Zoo has slashed the time it takes to achieve month-end closing by half, from 10 days to five; cut days off the preparation of monthly reports for the executive team; and saved itself thousands of dollars via better spend analysis, without compromising on the care of animals.
Pridgen has been able to check cash flow weekly instead of quarterly, which was a big help during the uncertainty of the pandemic, and to run budget projections to enable financial planning in case there was another shutdown.
But even more importantly, she says, Sage Intacct provides solid foundations for the Zoo’s ambitions to reignite expansion plans that by necessity took a back seat during 2020.
On her ‘to do’ list is adding statistical accounts, such as keeper hours and visitor attendance, into Sage Intacct. She’s also working on building roles-based dashboards to monitor overall performance and demonstrate program impact. Finally, she plans to implement Sage Intacct’s purchasing module, which will help the organization adopt centralized purchasing practices and fully prepare to ramp up growth again when the time is right:
That will be a huge win-win for us, because we’ll be saving staff time and costs when we can negotiate with suppliers on the basis of bulk purchasing and discounts. Instead of ten people buying fly spray, there’ll be one person buying fly spray for the whole Zoo and doing that at a discount. Or we’ll be able to buy both toilet paper and cleaning supplies for our restrooms from one supplier who gives us better pricing. That type of thinking has huge potential here.
With the introduction of new animal habitats and unique visitor experiences now back on the agenda – including the development of over 40 acres as an African-themed area over the next 10-15 years – then the Nashville Zoo finance team needs to be able to think big:
We are all so excited to go back to those ideas that we had pre-pandemic. We are in growth mode again, so we need to be able to determine how to prioritize the many projects vying for funding over a number of different timelines. We couldn’t have done that before. Now, we’re ready to get to work.